Finding A Local Solution During A Global Pandemic
How An ER Doctor Discovered O2 Industries
January 21, 2021 | Published by Dr. Peter Maric, Physician
It goes without saying that COVID-19 took the world by storm in 2020, and it became evident that we were unprepared for the magnitude of what was happening around the world. No where was this felt more acutely than on the frontline, where working from home, or an elective shutdown, were simply not feasible solutions.
The shortage of personal protective equipment has been a global concern during the pandemic, and sadly it continues to have a detrimental impact on healthcare professionals around the world. Being an Emergency Physician myself, we were facing very difficult choices on how to protect ourselves, our families, and our community, as the stores of essential equipment dwindled, and the supply chain became increasingly tenuous.
My colleagues were all well aware of the significance of these shortages, and at that time, we truly did not know how or when this problem would be solved. Many of us took it upon ourselves, and began working together to find that solution. At our lowest point, the province reported that we had only one week’s supply left of essential respirators. At the same time, shipments were being blocked at the border, counterfeit respirators had been reported around the world, and shipments had been hijacked overseas. I knew a local solution was essential, and that I needed to find one as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately at that time, I could not find a Canadian company producing N95 respirators. However, while several of my colleagues were looking into 3D printing respirators, or repurposing full face snorkels, I found a small start-up company, O2 Industries, located in Canada’s technology hub of Kitchener-Waterloo. They had been around since 2014 and created a respirator called the O2 Curve, which had originally been designed to protect against air pollution. Although it had not been certified as an N95 respirator, it seemed to provide a high level of airborne protection, and I was immediately intrigued as to whether this could offer a potential solution.
Within 24 hours, I had secured a meeting with O2’s co-founders, Peter Whitby and Rich Szasz, and explained our needs. Almost immediately, we decided to join forces, and I began working with Rich, O2’s Chief Innovation Officer. I poured through the company’s initial research and development data, and I began devising my own studies to determine the research we needed to conduct to develop the Curve for this purpose.
Rich and I began designing “hacks” that would optimize how the O2 Curve could be used in health care settings, while simultaneously taking everything we were learning to design a made for purpose medical respirator. We designed protocols that complied with the existing safety standards, and began testing our ideas at numerous public and private labs across the continent. We devised protocols to fit test the Curve, developed sterilization protocols, and tested new shell and filter combinations, as we worked with various certification bodies around the world.
One of our first hacks was a surgical mask adapter; a circular piece of plastic that clips directly onto the outer shell of the Curve. This accessory allows me to wear my O2 Curve underneath a surgical mask, to contain exhaled droplets and mitigate against contamination of the Curve itself, which provides two-way protection and minimizes transmission to the wearer, their colleagues, and their patients.
I wear my O2 Curve on a daily basis, because I am intimately aware of how effective it is at protecting not only myself, but also those around me. Many of my colleagues are now doing so as well, as initial reluctance dissipated into increased acceptance. I have been sharing all of this research, and there is a broad recognition that the Curve offers much better protection than simply wearing a disposable surgical mask by itself.
Going forward, I am continuing the process of research and development, with a highly skilled team that has grown rapidly in the last year. However, during my clinical duties in the ER, I am confident that my O2 Curve respirator, when coupled with the surgical mask adapter, not only protects me during my work day, but also those around me, and I find it comfortable enough that I am able to wear it all shift long.
Unfortunately, this pandemic is far from over, but I am proud to be a part of a team that is working on genuine, long term solutions to a global problem, and making us all safer in the process.